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Monday, May 08, 2006

Cory Lidle: All-Star? 

If this is May, then it must be time to rag on the Phillies pitching staff. As usual the pundits are looking for blame for the Phillies sluggish start and the team’s ERA (4.62, thirteen of sixteen NL teams) makes the pitching staff a ripe target for abuse. Aside from Brett Myers, the pundits are assailing Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd for their performances. Certainly there have been some uneven performances, but one pitcher in particular who doesn’t deserve abuse: Cory Lidle.

Cory Lidle joined the Phillies via a trade during the 2004 season. Most people didn’t really think much of the deal, as Lidle didn’t have very sexy stats: Lidle was 7-10 that season wit a 5.32 ERA with the Reds. He was also a bit of a journeyman pitcher, having played for the Mets (’97), the Devil Rays (’99 – ’00), the A’s (’01 – ’02), and the Blue Jays (’03) before starting the ’04 campaign with the Reds. However, I felt that the Phillies had made a shrewd decision to bring Lidle in. He had tools that made him an outstanding pitcher for Citizens Bank Ballpark: namely the capacity to get guys to hit ground balls:

Lidle’s secret is that he throws a lot of curveballs and off-speed pitches. According to the Bill James Handbook, Lidle threw 615 pitches in 2005 that were clocked at less than 80 mph (22% of his total pitches), ninth in the NL. Lidle relies heavily on his curve, which he throws 18.8% of his pitches. All of which means batters constantly hit the ball to the infield and constantly ground into double plays: in 2004 Lidle ranked tenth of all NL pitchers in groundball-flyball ratio at 1.63 … In 2005 Lidle actually improved on that, ranking eighth in the NL at 1.95. Lidle also ranked tenth in the NL in inducing double players per 9 innings: 1.02 per 9.

Despite starting 50% (or so) of his games at Citizens Bank, Lidle is pretty stingy with the home runs:

With Phillies: Home Runs per 9 innings…
2004: 0.43
2005: 0.87

For comparison, here are the team rates for those seasons:
2004: 1.31
2005: 1.18

That’s pretty great. Lidle is a terrific pitcher at controlling the strike zone. See how few walks he surrenders per 9 innings?:

BB/9: Lidle / Team
2004: 2.45 / 3.08
2005: 1.95 / 3.05

Lidle may strike many hitters out, but he keeps them from getting cheap walks and from going yard. Lidle got three strikeouts per walk in 2005: 121 K’s to 40 BB’s. The ratio improves actually to 3.45 to 1 if you eliminate the five intentional walks Lidle issued in 2005.

I know what you are thinking: hey Mike, if Cory Lidle is so great, why is he giving up over four runs a game? Fair enough, lets look at his 2006 stats to see why he’s having such a great year and you’d never know it:

HR/9: 0.98
K/9: 9.33
BB/9: 1.47

There you go. He's striking people out, he's keeping the ball from leaving the park and he's keeping baserunners off the basepaths with cheap walks. He's doing them so well that his 4.17 ERA ought to be much, much lower: Lidle's "real" ERA according to DIPS should be a paltry 3.07. Yes, Lidle is out-pitching his "real" ERA by 1.10 runs. That is third best in the National League, behind just Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Lidle's problem is that the Phillies are still mired in a defensive slump: they aren't getting to balls and making outs the way that they ought to. Lidle's BABIP is an atrocious .333, worst in the NL after Jon Lieber's .335. Don't blame the Phillies pitchers because the fielders are dead-last in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) at .655 (NL average: .703), and that they were -38 in Plus/Minus.

Naturally Lidle won't be selected to the All-Star game in Pittsburgh. To the average observer he doesn't look like anything special on the mound. You, reader, know better: Lidle is having a great season. He's doing everything that a pitcher should: striking people out, keep them off the base-paths and keep the ball out of the bleachers. Well done, Cory. Well done.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic: Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed). I usually use The Hardball Times FIP - basically the same stat - but for some odd reason their pitching statistic interface is down this morning.
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

Break up the Phillies!: That is eight in a row heading into the big three game series against the Mets and former Phillie Billy Wagner. The big thing here is that the Phillies have a major opportunity to make up ground on the Mets and bury the Braves, who are already eight games out. I'll preview the series tomorrow. This is The Big One!

In defense of the defense, the Phillies pitchers are allowing more line drives than the league average, an no one can get to those consistently. As for Lidle, he allows groundballs, which is good, but he also allows more line drives than the league average, which is not good.
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All-Star. This guy threw us all a curveball with his untimely death. This Yankee fan will miss him. Too bad we didn't beat the tigers - Lidle would still be around.

Here's a great tale on www.recordonline.com/lidle.
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